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The Rays' proposed waterfront ballpark would have several unique, fan-friendly features.
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 29, 2007
The Rays' proposed ballpark on the St. Petersburg waterfront would maximize views of the water and St. Petersburg skyline, and the field would be reoriented so home runs to rightfield splash into the bay.
Carlos Pena hits a home run into Tampa Bay during the press conference at Al Lang Field announcing the Rays plans for a new ball park.
ST. PETERSBURG - A game at the Rays' proposed waterfront stadium won't be anything like a game at their old stadium.
Or, for that matter, any other stadium.
The combination of the waterfront location, modernistic design, intimate layout and first-of-its-kind cable-supported sail-like roof make for what officials say - despite concerns over heat and humidity - will be a uniquely enjoyable experience.
"All of these downtown intimate ballparks that people can walk to, people can sit in the restaurant, people can walk the concourse and still see into the ballpark enriches the fan experience," Major League Baseball president Bob DuPuy said. "A ballpark where you are closer to the action, you can hear the players and you are part of the community I think provides a far superior environment for fans than is currently the case."
The waterfront location will prompt comparisons to San Francisco's AT&T Park. The curved design is somewhat reminiscent of Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium. The open-air-with-a-roof concept is similar to Seattle's Safeco Field. And the beyond-the-outfield-fence pedestrian plaza (on Bayshore Drive) is akin to Eutaw Street at Baltimore's Camden Yards.
But HOK Sport senior architect Joseph E. Spear said the Rays stadium would be different from them all.
And with the stadium designed to maximize views of the water and St. Petersburg skyline, and the field reoriented so home runs to rightfield splash into the bay, fans will find that - as the Rays pitched with their marketing slogan this past season - it's more than a game.
"I think it will be fabulous," Spear said. "It will be a real change from the Tropicana dome. The Tropicana dome was really the last of its kind. It was what the city needed then. Two (or) three years later, even before the Rays played there, it was obsolete."
A 320-foot mast in left-centerfield of the new stadium will be the iconic image, the roof the signature feature and the heat (or is it the humidity?) a prime topic of conversation.
But what fans may find most enjoyable is the intimate design - to preserve the spring training "feel" of the historic site, according to the Rays - and features such as the ability to walk around the entire stadium and see the action from all concourses.
Spear said it was too early to categorize how the stadium would play, primarily because a wind study has not been done. But he said he did not expect anything extreme, even though the sides of the stadium will be open.
He also assured that the cabling system for the roof, which extends from the mast to the permanent fabric cover over the upper deck, would not come into play - unlike the catwalks at Tropicana Field.
"We don't anticipate the ball will ever hit there," he said, though similar promises were made about the Trop.
Having a short rightfield - 320 or 330 feet - with the waters of Tampa Bay a lure could have an impact on how the game is played.
"I think it will get in their heads: 'Can I hit one in the bay?'" Spear said.
The Rays trotted out slugging first baseman Carlos Pena Wednesday to do just that. And once coach Tom Foley got his pitches over the plate, Pena did, then said he couldn't wait to do so at the real thing.
"It looks unbelievable, it really does," Pena said. "That's a big step in this organization in creating what all of us want to create. It's amazing. This will be a great place to play baseball. People will want to be here. Fans will want to come out to the ballpark. It's just such an attractive sight. The rendering looks unbelievable and for us players it's fun every time we play at one of those unbelievable ballparks. We will have that here soon."
Tampa native Fred McGriff, an original Ray and current team exec, was also excited about the possibilities.
"The Trop has done its job of getting a team here to Tampa Bay, but it's about time for something else," McGriff said. "You get tired of seeing the balls hit catwalks. It's kinda embarrassing when you see that in a big-league stadium and balls are hitting the catwalk and everyone's asking is it fair or foul, which ring did it hit? ... Everyone else is getting a new stadium. Other than Wrigley Field and Fenway, everybody else is getting a new stadium. It's basically down to Miami and Tampa."
DuPuy said the stadium could be a key in turning around a Tampa Bay franchise that has been one of least successful on the field and at the gate, increasing its attendance and revenues and accompanying its planned improvement on the field.
"Given where we are as an industry right now (in terms of parity), with the young talent they have and the commitment they are making," DuPuy said, "there is no reason why by the time this ballpark is built we can't be down here for playoff games and, ultimately, the World Series."
Times staff writer Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this report.